2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Art

A sculpture is a three-dimensional object, which for the purposes of this article is man-made and selected for special recognition as art. A person who creates sculpture is called a sculptor.

Materials of sculpture through history

Throughout most of history, the purpose of creating sculpture has been to produce works of art that are as permanent as is possible. So to that end, works were usually produced in durable and frequently, expensive materials, primarily bronze and stone such as marble, limestone, porphyry, and granite. More rarely, precious materials such as gold silver, jade, and ivory were used for chryselephantine works. More common and less expensive materials were used for sculpture for wider consumption, including woods such as oak, boxwood ( Buxus) and lime or linden ( Tilia), terra cotta and other ceramics, and cast metals such as pewter and zinc (spelter).

Sculptors are constantly searching for new ways to make art and for new materials to use. Andy Goldsworthy is notable as a sculptor for his use of almost entirely natural materials in natural settings and for creating sculptures much more ephemeral than is typical. Jim Gary used automobile parts, tools, machine parts, and hardware in his sculptures as well as stained glass. Pablo Picasso used bicycle parts for one of his most famous sculptures. Alexander Calder and other modernists made spectacular use of painted steel. Since the 1960s, acrylics and other plastics have been used as well. Despite durability being the usual objective, some sculpture is deliberately short lived -- for example, ice and sand sculptures or gas sculptures.

Sculptors often build small preliminary works called maquettes of ephemeral materials such as plaster of Paris, wax, clay, and even plasticine, as Alfred Gilbert did for 'Eros' at Piccadilly Circus, London.


Many different forms of sculpture were used in the many different regions of Asia, often based around the religions of Hinduism and Buddhism. A great deal of Cambodian Hindu sculpture is preserved at Angkor, however organized looting has had a heavy impact on many sites around the country. Also see Angkor Wat. In Thailand, sculpture was almost exclusively of Buddha images. Many Thai sculptures or temples are gilded, and on occasion enriched with inlays. See also Thai art


The first sculptures in India date back to the Indus Valley civilization (3300–1700 B.C.). These are among the earliest instances of sculpture in the world. Later, as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism developed further, India produced bronzes and stone carvings of great intricacy, such as the famous temple carvings which adorn various Hindu, Jain and Buddhist shrines. Some of these, such as the cave temples of Ellora and Ajanta, were carved out of solid rock, making them perhaps the largest and most ambitious sculptural schemes in the world.

During the 2nd to 1st century B.C. in far northern India, in what is now southern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, sculptures became more anatomically realistic, often representing episodes of the Buddha’s life and teachings. Although India had a long sculptural tradition and a mastery of rich iconography, the Buddha was never represented in human form before this time, but only through symbols such as the stupa. This alteration in style may have occurred because Gandharan Buddhist sculpture in ancient Afghanistan acquired Greek and Persian influence. Artistically, the Gandharan school of sculpture is characterized by wavy hair, drapery covering both shoulders, shoes and sandals, and acanthus leaf decorations, amongst other things.

The pink sandstone sculptures of Mathura evolved during the Gupta period 4th to 6th century to reach a very high fineness of execution and delicacy in the modeling. Gupta period art would later influence Chinese styles during the Sui dynasty, and the artistic styles across the rest of eastern Asia. Newer sculptures in Afghanistan, in stucco, schist or clay, display very strong blending of Indian post-Gupta mannerism and Classical influence. The celebrated bronzes of the Chola dynasty (c. A.D. 850 - 1250) from Southern India are of particular note; the iconic figure of Nataraja being the classic example. The traditions of Indian sculpture continue into the 20th and 21st centuries with for instance, the granite carving of Mahabalipuram derived from the Pallava dynasty. Contemporary Indian sculpture is typically polymorphous but includes celebrated figures such as Dhruva Mistry.

the Indian sculptures are mainly found in kajaraho and ajanta and ellora caves.


A Liao Dynasty polychrome wood-carved statue of Guan Yin, Shanxi Province, China, (907–1125 AD)
A Liao Dynasty polychrome wood-carved statue of Guan Yin, Shanxi Province, China, ( 907– 1125 AD)

Chinese artifacts date back as early as 10,000 BC -- and skilled, Chinese artisans have been active up to the present time -- but the bulk of what is displayed as sculpture in Euro-culture museums come from a few, select, historical periods. The first period of interest has been the Zhou Dynasty (1050-771 BC), from which come a variety of intricate cast bronze vessels. The next period of interest was the Han Dynasty ( 206 BC - 220 AD) -- beginning with the spectacular Terracotta army assembled for the tomb of the first emperor of the very brief Chin dynasty that preceded it. (Qin Shi Huang) in 210–209 BC.) Tombs excavated from the Han period have revealed many figures found to be vigorous, direct, and appealing 2000 years later.

The first Buddhist sculpture is found dating from the Three Kingdoms period (third century), while the sculpture of the Longmen Grottoes (Wei dynasty, 5th and 6th century, located near Luoyang, Henan Province) has been widely recognized for its special elegant qualities.

The period now considered to be China's golden age is the Tang Dynasty (coinciding with what in Europe is sometimes called "The Dark Ages"). Decorative figures like those shown below became very popular in 20th Century Euro-American culture, and were made available in bulk as warlords in the Chinese civil wars exported them to raise cash. Considered especially desirable, and even profound, was the Buddhist sculpture, often monumental, begun in the Sui Dynasty, inspired by the Indian art of the Gupta period, and many are considered treasures of world art.

Following the Tang, Western interest in Chinese artifacts drops off dramatically, except for what might be considered as ornamental furnishings, and especially objects in jade. Pottery from many periods has been collected, and again the Tang period stands out apart for its free, easy feeling. Chinese sculpture has no nudes --other perhaps than figures made for medical training or practice -- and very little portraiture compared with the European tradition. One place where sculptural portraiture was pursued, however, was in the monasteries.

Almost nothing, other than jewelry, jade, or pottery is collected by art museums after the Ming Dynasty ended in the late 17th century -- and absolutely nothing has yet been recognized as sculpture from the tumultuous 20th century, although there was a school of Soviet-influenced social realist sculpture in the early decades of the Communist regime, and as the century turned, Chinese craftsmen began to dominate commercial sculpture genres (the collector plates, figurines, toys, etc) and avant garde Chinese artists began to participate in the Euro-American enterprise of contemporary art.


A frog and lizard battle in this contemporary sculpture in Matsumoto, Japan.
A frog and lizard battle in this contemporary sculpture in Matsumoto, Japan.

Countless paints and sculpture were made, often under governmental sponsorship. Most Japanese sculpture is associated with religion, and the medium' use declined with the lessening importance of traditional Buddhism. During the Kofun period of the third century, clay sculptures called haniwa were erected outside tombs. Inside the Kondo at Hōryū-ji is a Shaka Trinity (623), the historical Buddha flanked by two bodhisattvas and also the Guardian Kings of the Four Directions The wooden image ( 9th c.) of Shakyamuni, the "historic" Buddha, enshrined in a secondary building at the Muro-ji, is typical of the early Heian sculpture, with its ponderous body, covered by thick drapery folds carved in the hompa-shiki (rolling-wave) style, and its austere, withdrawn facial expression. The Kei school of sculptors, particularly Unkei, created a new, more realistic style of sculpture.


African art has an emphasis on Sculpture - African artists tend to favour three-dimensional artworks over two-dimensional works. Although anthropologists argue that the earliest known sculptures in Africa are from the Nok culture of Nigeria that date around 500 BC, the art of Pharaonic Africa date much earlier than the Nok period. Metal sculptures from the eastern portions of west Africa such as Benin, are considered among the best ever produced.

Art plays an essential role in the lives of the African peoples and communities across the continent. The beauty of African art is simply in meaning. These objects mean a great deal to the people and they are of significant meaning to the traditions that produce them. Their beauty and content protect the community and the individual artists, and tell much of the artists who use them. Later exhibitions of African art in the West have been able to get much detailed catalogues that attempt to cover the art of the whole continent.

African Sculptures

Sculptures are created to symbolize and reflect the regions from which they are made. Right from the materials and techniques used, the pieces have functions that are very different from one region to the other.

In West Africa, the figures have elongated bodies, angular shapes, and facial features that represent an ideal rather than an individual. These figures are used in religious rituals. They are made to have surfaces that are often coated with materials placed on them for ceremonial offerings. In contrast to these sculptures of West Africa are the ones of Mande-speaking peoples of the same region. The Mande pieces are made of wood and have broad, flat surfaces. Their arms and legs are shaped like cylinders.

In Central Africa, however, the key characteristics include heart shaped faces that are curve inward and display patterns of circles and dots. Although some groups prefer more of geometric and angular facial forms, not all pieces are exactly the same. Also, not all pieces are made of the same material. The materials used range from mostly wood all the way to ivory, bone, stone, clay, and metal. Overall, though, the Central African region has very striking styles that is very easy to identify. With the distinctive style, one can easily tell which area the sculpture was produced in.

Eastern Africa is not known for their sculptures but one type that is done in this area is pole sculptures. These are a pole carved in a human shape and decorated with geometric forms, while the tops are carved with figures of animals, people, and various objects. These poles are then placed next to graves and are associated with death and the ancestral world.

Southern Africa’s oldest known clay figures date from 400 to 600 A.D. and have cylindrical heads. These clay figures have a mixture of human and animal features. Other than clay figures, there are also wooden headrests that were buried with their owners. The headrests had styles ranging from geometric shapes to animal figures. Each region had a unique style and meaning to their sculptures. The type of material and purpose for creating sculpture in Africa reflect the region from which the pieces are created.


See also Art of ancient Egypt

The ancient art of Egyptian sculpture evolved to represent the ancient Egyptian gods, and Pharaohs, the divine kings and queens, in physical form. Very strict conventions were followed while crafting statues: male statues were darker than the female ones; in seated statues, hands were required to be placed on knees and specific rules governed appearance of every Egyptian god. Artistic works were ranked according to exact compliance with all the conventions, and the conventions were followed so strictly that over three thousand years, very little changed in the appearance of statutes except during a brief period during the rule of Akhenaten and Nefertiti when naturalistic protrayal was encouraged.

The Americas

Sculpture in the Americas developed in two separate and distinct areas, Mexico in the north and Peru in the south. In both areas sculpture was initially of stone. Sone was to be augmented by works in terra cotta and metal as the civilizations in these areas became more technologically profecient.

The history of sculpture in the United States reflects the country's 18th century foundation in Roman republican civic values as well as Protestant Christianity. American sculpture of the mid to late 19th century was often classical, often romantic, but showed a special bent for a dramatic, narrative, almost journalistic realism. Public buildings of the first half of the 20th century often provided an architectural setting for sculpture, especially in relief. By the 1950s traditional sculpture education would almost be completely replaced by a Bauhaus influenced concern for abstract design. Minimalist sculpture often replaced the figure in public settings. Modern sculptors use both classical and abstract inspired designs. Beginning in the 1980s there was a swing back toward figurative public sculpture and by the year 2000 many of the new public pieces in the United States were figurative in design.


An overview of forms

The Emperor Tiberius enamelled terracotta bust at the Victoria and Albert Museum, 19th century.
The Emperor Tiberius enamelled terracotta bust at the Victoria and Albert Museum, 19th century.

Some common forms of sculpture are:

  • The bust, a representation of a person from the chest up.
  • Equestrian sculpture, typically showing a significant person on horseback.
  • Free-standing sculpture, sculpture that is surrounded on all sides, except the base, by space. it is also known as sculpture "in the round."
  • Fountain, in which the sculpture is designed with moving water.
  • "In the round": designed by the sculptor to be viewed from any angle.
  • Jewellery
  • Mobile (See also Calder's Stabiles.)
  • Relief: sculpture still attached to a background, standing out from that ground in "High Relief" or "Low Relief" ( bas relief)
  • Site-Specific Art
  • Statue
Lady with Kittens  at Delapré Abbey
Lady with Kittens at Delapré Abbey

Perhaps the majority of public art is sculpture. See also sculpture garden.


Features unique to the European Classical tradition:

  1. full figures: using the young, athletic male or full-bodied female nude
  2. portraits: showing signs of age and strong character
  3. use of classical costume and attributes of classical deities
  4. Concern for naturalism based on observation, often from live models.

Features that the European Classical tradition shares with many others:

  1. characters present an attitude of distance and inner contentment
  2. details do not disrupt a sense of rhythm between solid volumes and the spaces that surround them
  3. pieces feel solid and larger than they really are
  4. ambient space feels sacred or timeless

The topic of Nudity

An unadorned figure in Greek classical sculpture was a reference to the status or role of the depicted person, deity or other being. Athletes, priestesses and gods could be identified by their adornment or lack of it.

The Renaissance preoccupation with Greek classical imagery, such as the 4th century B.C. Doryphoros of Polykleitos, led to nude figurative statues being seen as the 'perfect form' of representation for the human body. Subsequently, nudity in sculpture and painting has represented a form of ideal, be it innocence, openness or purity. Nude sculptures are still common. As in painting, they are often made as exercises in efforts to understand the anatomical structure of the human body and develop skills that will provide a foundation for making clothed figurative work.

Nude statues are usually widely accepted by most societies, largely due to the length of tradition that supports this form. Occasionally, the nude form draws objections, often by fundamentalist moral or religious groups. Classic examples of this are the removal of penises from the Vatican collection of Greek sculpture and the addition of a fig leaf to a plaster cast of Michelangelo's sculpture of David for Queen Victoria's visit to the British Museum.

Ancient Greek sculpture. A portion of the Parthenon Pediment, displayed in the British Museum.
Ancient Greek sculpture. A portion of the Parthenon Pediment, displayed in the British Museum.

The topic of social status

Worldwide, sculptors are usually tradesmen whose work is unsigned. But in the Classical tradition, some sculptors began to receive individual recognition in Periclean Athens and more so in the Renaissance revival 2000 years later, culminating in the career of Michelangelo who entered the circle of princes. Sculpture was still a trade, but exceptional sculptors were recognized on a level with exceptional poets and painters. In the 19th century, sculpture also became a bourgeois/upper class avocation, as poetry and painting had been, and the classical work of women sculptors began to appear.

Gothic sculpture, late 15th century.
Gothic sculpture, late 15th century.


Gothic sculpture evolved from the early stiff and elongated style, still partly Romanesque, into a spatial and naturalistic feel in the late 12th and early 13th century. The architectural statues at the Western (Royal) Portal at Chartres Cathedral (c. 1145) are the earliest Gothic sculptures and were a revolution in style and the model for a generation of sculptors. Prior to this there had been no sculpture tradition in Ile-de-France—so sculptors were brought in from Burgundy. The Bamberg Cathedral had the largest assemblage of 13th century sculpture. In England sculpture was more confined to tombs and non-figurine decorations. In Italy there was still a Classical influence, but Gothic made inroads in the sculptures of pulpits such as the Pisa Baptistery pulpit (1269) and the Siena pulpit. Dutch-Burgundian sculptor Claus Sluter and the taste for naturalism signaled the beginning of the end of Gothic sculpture, evolving into the classicistic Renaissance style by the end of the 15th century.


Donatello's David (replica)
Donatello's David (replica)
Michelangelo's David
Michelangelo's David

Although the Renaissance began at different times around Europe (some areas created art longer in the Gothic style than other areas) the transition from Gothic to Renaissance in Italy was signalled by a trend toward naturalism with a nod to classical sculpture. One of the most important sculptors in the classical revival was Donatello. The greatest achievement of what art historians refer to as his classic period is the bronze statue entitled David (not to be confused with Michelangelo's David), which is currently located at the Bargello in Florence. At the time of its creation, it was the first free-standing nude statue since ancient times. Conceived fully in the round and independent of any architectural surroundings, it is generally considered to be the first major work of Renaissance sculpture.

During the High Renaissance, the time from about 1500 to 1520, Michelangelo was an active sculptor with works such as David and the Pietà, as well as the Doni Virgin, Bacchus, Moses, Rachel, Orgetorix, and members of the Medici family. Michelangelo's David is possibly the most famous sculpture in the world, which was unveiled on September 8, 1504. It is an example of the contrapposto style of posing the human figure, which again borrows from classical sculpture. Michelangelo's statue of David differs from previous representations of the subject in that David is depicted before his battle with Goliath and not after the giant's defeat. Instead of being shown victorious over a foe much larger than he, David looks tense and ready for combat.


Benvenuto Cellini created a salt cellar of gold and ebony in 1540 featuring Neptune and Amphitrite (earth and water) in elongated form and uncomfortable positions. It is considered a masterpiece of Mannerist sculpture.


King Zygmunt Vasa column in Warsaw, Poland
King Zygmunt Vasa column in Warsaw, Poland

In Baroque sculpture, groups of figures assumed new importance, and there was a dynamic movement and energy of human forms— they spiralled around an empty central vortex, or reached outwards into the surrounding space. For the first time, Baroque sculpture often had multiple ideal viewing angles. The characteristic Baroque sculpture added extra-sculptural elements, for example, concealed lighting, or water fountains. Often, Baroque artists fused sculpture and architecture seeking to create a transformative experience for the viewer. Gianlorenzo Bernini was undoubtedly the most important sculptor of the Baroque period. His first works were inspired by Hellenistic sculpture of ancient Greece and imperial Rome. One of his most famous works is Ecstasy of St Theresa


Falconet's statue of Peter I has become one of the symbols of St Petersburg
Falconet's statue of Peter I has become one of the symbols of St Petersburg

The sculpture examples they actually embraced were more likely to be Roman copies of Hellenistic sculptures. In sculpture, the most familiar representatives are the Italian Antonio Canova, the Englishman John Flaxman and the Dane Bertel Thorvaldsen. The European neoclassical manner also took hold in the United States, where its high tide occurred somewhat later and is exemplified in the sculptures of William Henry Rinehart (1825-1874).


Modern Classicism contrasted in many ways with the classical sculpture of the 19th Century which was characterized by commitments to naturalism ( Antoine-Louis Barye) -- the melodramatic ( François Rude) sentimentality ( Jean Baptiste Carpeaux)-- or a kind of stately grandiosity ( Lord Leighton) Several different directions in the classical tradition were taken as the century turned, but the study of the live model and the post-Renaissance tradition was still fundamental to them.

Rodin's The Burghers of Calais in Calais, France.
Rodin's The Burghers of Calais in Calais, France.

Auguste Rodin was the most renowned European sculptor of the early 20th century. He might be considered as sui generis -- that is, if anyone successfully composed in his turbulent, virtuosic style, they have yet to be discovered. But he is often considered a sculptural Impressionist, as are Medardo Rosso, Count Troubetski, and Rik Wouters, attempting to frame the charm of a fleeting moment of daily life.

Fragment of the grave of Cyprian Kamil Norwid in the Bards' crypt in Wawel Cathedral, Cracow by sculptor Czesław Dźwigaj
Fragment of the grave of Cyprian Kamil Norwid in the Bards' crypt in Wawel Cathedral, Cracow by sculptor Czesław Dźwigaj

Modern Classicism showed a lesser interest in naturalism and a greater interest in formal stylization. Greater attention was paid to the rhythms of volumes and spaces - as well as greater attention to the contrasting qualities of surface (open, closed, planar, broken etc) while less attention was paid to story-telling and convincing details of anatomy or costume. Greater attention was given to psychological realism than to physical realism. Greater attention was given to showing what was eternal and public, rather than what was momentary and private. Greater attention was given to examples of ancient and Medieval sacred arts:Egyptian, Middle Eastern, Asian, African, and Meso-American. Grandiosity was still a concern, but in a broader, more world-wide context.

Early masters of modern classicism included: Aristide Maillol, Alexander Matveev, Joseph Bernard, Antoine Bourdelle, Georg Kolbe, Libero Andreotti, Gustav Vigeland, Jan Stursa.

As the century progressed, modern classicism was adopted as the national style of the two great European totalitarian empires: Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, who co-opted the work of early masters, like Kolbe and Arno Breker in Germany, and Matveev in Russia. Nazi Germany had a 15-year run; but over the 70 years of the USSR, new generations of sculptors were trained and chosen within their system, and a distinct style, socialist realism, developed, that returned to the 19th century's emphasis on melodrama and naturalism.

Henry Moore was famous for his Reclining Figure, and many other sculptures
Henry Moore was famous for his Reclining Figure, and many other sculptures

In the rest of Europe, the modern classical became either more decorative/art deco ( Paul Manship, Carl Milles) or more abstractly stylized (Henry Moore, Alberto Giacometti, Julio González) or more expressive (and Gothic) ( Anton Hanak, Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Ernst Barlach, Arturo Martini) -- or turned more to the Renaissance ( Giacomo Manzu, Venanzo Crocetti) or stayed the same ( Charles Despiau, Marcel Gimond).

Classical training was rooted out of art education in Western Europe (and the Americas) by 1970 and the classical variants of the 20th Century were marginalized in the history of modernism. But classicism continued as the foundation of art education in the Soviet academies until 1990, providing a foundation for expressive figurative art throughout eastern Europe and parts of the Middle East.

By the year 2000, the European classical tradition maintains a wide appeal to viewers - especially tourists - and especially for the ancient, Renaissance, Baroque, and 19th century periods -- but awaits an educational tradition to revive its contemporary development.

Modernist movements included Cubism, Futurism, Minimalism, Installation art, and Pop-Art.


Post-modern sculpture occupies a broader field of activities than Modernist sculpture, as Rosalind Krauss has observed. Her idea of sculpture in the expanded field identified a series of oppositions that describe the various sculpture-like activities that are post-modern sculpture:

Site-Construction is the intersection of landscape and architecture
Axiomatic Structures is the combination of architecture and not-architecture
Marked sites is the combination of landscape and not-landscape
Sculpture is the intersection of not-landscape and not-architecture

Krauss' concern was creating a theoretical explanation that could adequately fit the developments of Land art, Minimalist sculpture, and Site-specific art into the category of sculpture. To do this, her explanation created a series of oppositions around the work's relationship to its environment.

Contemporary genres

The Spire of Dublin - 120 metres (393 ft) in height and lit from the top
The Spire of Dublin - 120 metres (393 ft) in height and lit from the top

Some modern sculpture forms are now practiced outdoors, and often in full view of spectators, thus giving them kinship to performance art in the eyes of some. Ice sculpture is a form of sculpture that uses ice as the raw material. It's popular in China, Japan, Canada, Sweden, and Russia. Ice sculptures feature decoratively in some cuisines, especially in Asia. Kinetic sculptures are sculptures that are designed to move, which include Mobiles. Snow sculptures are usually carved out of a single block of snow about 6 to 15 feet on each side and weighing about 20 - 30 tons. The snow is densely packed into a form after having been produced by artificial means or collected from the ground after a snowfall. Sound sculptures take the form of indoor sound installations, outdoor installations such as aeolian harps, automatons, or be more or less near conventional musical instruments. Sound sculpture is often site-specific. A Sand castle can be regarded as a sand sculpture. Weightless Sculpture (in outer space) as a concept is created in 1985 by the Dutch artist Martin Sjardijn.

Other arts which can be regarded as sculptures include:

  • Costume
  • Doll
  • Floral design ( Ikebana)
  • Glassblowing
  • Hologram
  • Mask
  • Pottery
  • Light Sculpture
  • Pumpkin Carving

Greenfield Products Pty Ltd v. Rover-Scott Bonnar Ltd

The Australian copyright case of Greenfield Products Pty Ltd v. Rover-Scott Bonnar Ltd (1990) 17 IPR 417 is authority for the proposition that for copyright or intellectual property rights purposes, a thing not intended to be a sculpture is not a sculpture. In this case the judge stated:

It appears to me clear that neither the moulds nor the drive mechanism, nor the parts of the latter, are sculptures in the ordinary sense. It is true, as was pointed out in the course of argument, that some modern sculptures consist of or include parts of machines, but that does not warrant the conclusion that all machines and parts thereof are properly called sculptures, and similar reasoning applies to moulds.

Though this seems contrary to some famous examples of sculpture, including Marcel Duchamp's 1917 sculpture consisting of a porcelain urinal lying on its back, titled Fountain, and Carl Andre's sculpture Equivalent III exhibited in the Tate Gallery in 1978, consisting of bricks stacked in a rectangle, this is not really the case since Duchamp and others were intending to produce works of art as opposed to the litigants in the lawsuit who were intending to produce riding lawn mowers.

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